Surviving the Lockdown: Play Ping Pong With “Absolutely Fabulous”

Patsy Ping Pong

First, I want to say that I take this situation very seriously and worry about all those affected health-wise and also economically. But for those of us lucky enough to still have work plus be able to do that work at home, or for those who have no choice but to self-isolate, I want to provide some ideas to survive the lockdown.

You could exercise – do some situps and pushups or use your home elliptical – or write that novel or have some deep conversations or clean Marie Kondo-style or obsessively watch news porn about the virus. Or binge on TV shows.

I vote for TV! No surprise.

What to overdose on first? What else? “Absolutely Fabulous”.

The main cast, whose first names all start with “J”, is peerless: Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley, Jennifer Sawalha, and June Whitefield. The writing is perhaps the best of any series, ever. Although each season was six episodes (sometimes less), Jennifer Saunders packed 24 episodes of great writing into just six.

There is one episode that’s particularly apt to our current situation. In the Season One episode “France”, Patsy and Edina go on holiday but end up somehow in the French countryside in what they think is a hovel. Unable to feed or entertain themselves, Edina compels her daughter Saffron who comes with food – and Bubble. Saffy finds the tranquility and beauty of the “hovel” quite relaxing, wondering why her mother can’t enjoy it. There’s so much do, she says, such as read a book, take a walk, or play…ping pong.

All four get involved in a table tennis match, although Patsy refuses to enjoy it, preferring her wine and cigarettes. That is until she has a toot-toot and comes back, traces of powder under her nose, all juiced-up and ready to play.

Of course (SPOILERS) at the end, she finds out her precious stash of white powder is not cocaine and is horrified to find out she was sober all the time and actually enjoyed something as common as ping pong.

Not that I advocate having to resort to coke to enjoy your time in lockdown. “AbFab” is enough of an addiction for me.

All in all, there are 39 episodes, which include seven specials, all of which spooled out over a 20-year period. This does not include the 2016 movie version, which may be the end, unfortunately. I think you can watch all of it within 24 hours, not that you should. Better to savor it. We could be under lockdown for awhile.

Here’s a clip reel, enjoy!

David Walliams Teams With Robbie Williams: “The Boy in the Dress” Musical at Royal Shakespeare Company

The Boy in the Dress

If you don’t recognize David Walliams’ name, think one-half of the “Little Britain” duo. Ah, that guy. Anyhow, he’s built quite a career beyond “Little Britain” in television and film, but his greatest success, eclipsing everything else is his career as a children’s book writer.

His first in 2008 was “The Boy in the Dress”, brought to life by legendary book illustrator Quentin Blake. Although ostensibly heterosexual, David Walliams has never shied away from his fey side, and this was reflected in his choice of subject. It was enough of a success that he wrote more books and by 2017, he was selling £16 million worth of them a year, with many adapted for television and stage.

Now comes a big stage musical adaptation, based on “The Boy in the Dress”.

This is the big deal. Developed at the Royal Shakespeare Company, it premiered in Stratford-upon-Avon, directed by Gregory Doran who has mainly directed the Bard’s work at the RSC for the past 20 years. Walliams’ book was adapted by Mark Ravenhill who co-created TV’s “Vicious”, with songs by pop superstar Robbie Williams along with his longtime collaborators Guy Chambers and Chris Heath.

I love Robbie Williams and have for over 20 years now. I didn’t know him when he was in Take That but when he went solo and they attempted to launch him in the U.S., I got hooked unlike the rest of our clueless country. He’s produced some of the best music America’s never heard. So I’m thrilled to see he’s branching out into musical theatre writing.

“The Boy in the Dress” has just finished it’s run at the RSC, but from the great reviews and pedigreed creative team, it should have a life most likely on the West End and beyond.

AbFab! Pioneer and Role Model Snagglepuss Returning in “Jellystone!”

Snagglepuss Hanna Barbera

Growing up, there were obvious homosexuals on TV and in movies yet for most straight audiences, they were seen as Second Bananas, eccentric and flamboyant and not activists flaunting the reality of their “lifestyle” in everyone’s faces. In the Golden Age of Hollywood, think Edward Everett Horton, Marjorie Main, and Franklin Pangborn, and in television in the 1950s-60s, think Nancy Culp (Beverly Hillbillies), Paul Lynde, and of course, Snagglepuss.

Ahh, Snagglepuss. His voice was modeled on Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion, a similarity that “The Wizard of Oz” actor litigated over when the pink feline appeared in Kellogg Cereal commercials. However, that’s where the similarity ended. Snagglepuss was not cowardly. He was confident and unapologetically fey, poised with wit and I’d say presence. For a young kid like me, he was a great role model.

His greatest appeal, to me, was his trademark campy delivery, which included some distinctive catchphrases including “Heavens to Murgatroyd!” and “Exit, stage left!” plus his way of ending sentences with the word “even” (you have to hear it to get it).

He was never the cartoon superstar, but was ubiquitous from his beginnings in 1959 as Snaggletooth on the “Quick Draw McGraw Show”, through 32 episodes of his own shorts in the “The Yogi Bear Show”, through a million shows such as “Wacky Races”, “Laff-A-Lympics” and more, most recently revived by DC Comics in a more “realistic” manner as a Tennessee Williams-esque playwright.

Now word comes that he’s returning in the upcoming HBO Max series called “Jellystone!” along with a town full of Hanna-Barbera characters including Yogi Bear! Boo-Boo! Huckleberry Hound! Captain Caveman! Top Cat! And so many more faves! But now that means I have to subscribe to another streaming channel! Crap!

Six Degrees of “The Golden Girls” from Cher to Jerry Lewis

Jerry Lewis as Carmen Miranda

No, neither Cher nor Jerry Lewis appeared in “The Golden Girls”, but they are connected via the show just the way Leonardo DiCaprio is connected to Patrick Stewart (via Quentin Tarantino’s appearance in “TGG”). Let’s play Six Degrees of “The Golden Girls”!

In 1960’s “Cinderfella”, Jerry Lewis’s fairy godfather was Ed Wynn, a character actor probably better known to kids today than superstars such as Doris Day or Rock Hudson due to his appearance in “Mary Poppins” playing Uncle Albert who floats higher the more he laughs (early stoner?). Ed Wynn’s son, Keenan Wynn, was also a famous character actor (in “For Me and My Gal” with Judy Garland, “Dr. Strangelove”, “Dallas”, to “Taxi” among hundreds of roles), and who appeared with Jerry Lewis in 1964’s “The Patsy”.

While watching “The Patsy” and looking up the Wynn family in Wikipedia, I discovered that Keenan Wynn’s grandaughter Jessica Keenan Wynn appeared in “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” playing the younger version of Christine Baranski’s character Tanya; and of course, this movie featured an earthquake-inducing appearance by the one and only Cher.

So what connects Cher and the Wynn family and Jerry Lewis via “The Golden Girls”? It turns out that Jessica Keenan Wynn was born in 1986 and appeared as a baby in Season 2, Episode 16 of “TGG”! Not just a random baby but one that was central to the plot.

Once Jessica grew up, she continued in show business, racking up a lot of theatre credits (currently appearing off and on in “Beautiful” on Broadway) before appearing in “Mamma Mia 2”.

Jessica Keenan Wynn: Never in the center of the frame, but always stealing the scene, on the left of Lily James.

Anyhoo, here’s Cher’s big number in the film singing “Fernando” with Andy Garcia:

This is Actually Good! Iceland’s Entry into Eurovision, the Dorky, Catchy “Think About Things”

Eurovision 2020 Iceland

Alright, it’s two whole months before the Eurovision Song Contest and I think we’ve found a winner already. Iceland’s entry “Think About Things” by Daði Freyr and his band Gagnamagnið (roughly meaning “The Data”) is so counter-intuitive to everything typical of Eurovision which is why it’s so refreshing. There have been attempts at humor with past Eurovision entries, although most are unintentional. There was one year where Greece offered kilted, mohawked guys singing guterally about “Money for Beer” and another from Sweden I think featuring a colorful lesbian wedding. Neither were well-received.

However, I think this Icelandic entry gets it just right. It’s fun, ironic, catchy and very very simple. Instead of the typical men running in giant steel hamster wheels, swaying women on sticks, flames that singe the fringe of any audience members too close to the stage, or hard rock power ballads sung in folk costumes, this band uses colorful sweaters, dorky choreography, and fun to entertain us.

Love it.

It’s possible there’ll be another good entry this year, we can hope. But usually, there’s not even one, so we’re way ahead already. Check it out here:

Some Needed Comic Relief: Watch “The Golden Girls” Endure a “Flu Attack”

Golden Girls Flu Attack

Alright, we’re in a weird situation right now, knowing there’s this virus that’s lurking, waiting to silently grab us and then turn out lives upside down. Or not.

Other than going to the grocery store and hoarding, there’s little we can do ourselves about this situation given that the government seemingly has no clue and only thinks about the political impact rather than saving lives. So we might as well keep our spirits up.

Sometimes there’s nothing funnier than laughing at miserable, sick people, as long as of course they’re not suffering from anything deadly.

Case in point, my favorite episode of “The Golden Girls” came in the first season. It was called “Flu Attack” and three of the “girls” get the flu, making each other more miserable through their grouchiness than due to their symptoms. They fight over everything, having absolutely no sympathy for one another.

Watch this episode if you’re sick and need a laugh.

Six Degrees Between “The Golden Girls” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation”

Raye Birk Golden Girls

Forget Kevin Bacon, I think everything in Hollywood leads back to “The Golden Girls” (TGG). We are currently watching both “TGG” and “Star Trek: TNG” in order from the beginning and we’re finding some surprising connections.

As I wrote previously, Quentin Tarantino attributes his appearance as an Elvis impersonator on “TGG” with providing him funds through residuals keeping him afloat as he developed “Reservoir Dogs”. Because of this, you can trace Bea Arthur and Leonardo DiCaprio in two degrees, and also Tarantino to the cast of Star Trek (which he is rumored to be taking on) as we’ll see below.

With “TNG”, we notice with nearly every episode, there’s an actor who has also appeared in “TGG”. There was overlap time-wise between the two shows (TGG premiered in 1985 and TNG in 1987) and so they were pulling from the pool of actors available at the time. I wondered if perhaps they shared a casting director, but imdb doesn’t support this.

My favorite double-casting involves Raye Birk. In the “TGG” episode “Sophia’s Wedding , he’s the gayest wedding planner ever “ready to fly right outa” there, in two episodes including this one where he’s trying to hold Sophia’s wedding together:

And here’s an image of him in the 1987 “Star Trek: TNG” episode “Haven”, the 10th episode of the first season, filmed a year before his appearance with the girl-gang in Miami. He seems to have gotten typecast because his appearances in both series involved weddings.

There’s also a Tarantino-Birk-Star Trek connection happening because Birk’s appearance in “TGG” was in the very same episode (well, two-partner) as Tarantino’s with “Sophia’s Wedding”.

If you hadn’t heard the news of Tarantino’s flirting with doing a Star Trek movie, apparently he has an idea that he’s pitched but no firm details on whether he’ll actually write it and/or direct. Maybe he’ll have Betty White in it and we’ll come full circle. Stay tuned.